Cultural tourism supporters to keep pushing for National Heritage Area designation for St. Croix


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ST. CROIX - Some who support cultural and heritage tourism on St. Croix reacted with disappointment to the news that the proposal for a National Heritage Area designation for the island was left out of a bill that passed a U.S. Senate committee last week.

But mostly, those who spoke to The Daily News said they are in it for the long haul and will keep pushing for the designation.

National Heritage Areas are designated by the U.S. Congress. A National Heritage Area is locally-owned and managed, selected for the designation because of a unique combination and abundance of resources - including cultural, heritage, historic, man-made and natural environmental resources - that are significant to the entire nation.

In a press release last week announcing that the Omnibus Territories Bill of 2013 had passed the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen said she was "extremely disappointed that the St. Croix National Heritage Area proposal, which with other NHA proposals were opposed by Republicans, was not included in the final bill.

"When I heard about the omission of this program that the St. Croix community has worked for over the years, I called and wrote to the committee expressing my displeasure that it was not included in this bill," she said. "I will continue to work for the approval of the St. Croix NHA because it can be a key economic development program for St. Croix."

Christensen told The Daily News that the proposal is still in committee and that she will continue to push to move it forward.

Local environmental consultant Paul Chakroff said he was disappointed with the omission of the proposal from the bill.

"I'm highly disappointed. I share the delegate's disappointment," he said. "Given the Congress that's seated in Washington right now, it's not terribly surprising."

Chakroff said he hopes the measure is put forward in the next session of Congress, when he hopes "that we have a more favorable environment in place after the mid-term elections."

Frandelle Gerard, executive director of Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism, Inc., said that she found the Senate committee's decision "unfortunate."

"I think it's a shame. It's gone so far and the strategic plan was done so well that the National Park office that completed it received an award on it," she said. "It was an award-winning plan."

Gerard said she believes heritage and cultural tourism will continue to flourish on St. Croix, regardless of whether the National Heritage Area designation is awarded. She also said she still has hope that the designation may happen.

"Always. This is a long-term process," she said. "Definitely I have hope."

Such a designation would open up resources for St. Croix, including some funding.

Christensen said that it has "always been difficult" to get National Heritage Area legislation passed.

Claudette Young-Hinds, who has pushed for the designation for years, said the proposal's omission from the bill does not leave her overly concerned. Young-Hinds is the president of SUCCEED, which stands for St. Croix Unified for Community, Culture, Environment and Economic Development. SUCCEED was chosen as the local coordinating entity for the National Heritage Area designation.

Young-Hinds said officials would have to keep trying.

"It only takes 20 years to be an overnight success," she said.

She said she feels that capitalizing on heritage and cultural tourism is the route for St. Croix to go, with or without the National Heritage Area designation.

"It's not the silver bullet - but it is a significant piece of the mix of economic activities that can create a sustainable economy for St. Croix," she said. "I'm not discouraged because I also know as long as the delegate has breath in her body, she's going to continue to hound them until they get it."

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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